’89 domande a Caroline Randall Williams – Poet and Academic

Name? Caroline Randall Williams (@caroranwill)

What’s your job? Poet, Writer, Professor at Vanderbilt University.

Where did you go to high school? St. Paul’s, a boarding school in New Hampshire. 

What did you study at university? English literature, Harvard.

Can you give us a definition of art? Ha. I can try. For me it’s go to be something like,  human struggle made into something people can consume for pleasure or relief or joy. 

Your favorite style icon? Eartha Kitt. Beau Brummell. Elizabeth I. Billie Holiday. 

Your favorite fashion designer? Coco Chanel. 

If you could live in one historical era, which one would you choose? 1920s Paris, or 1590s London. Or the world, right now, because there’s so much change, and so many new ways to connect. 

If you could spend a day with an historical figure who would you choose? Shakespeare.

Who are the people that inspired you the most? Shakespeare. Maya Angelou. James Baldwin. My mom (Alice Randall). 

Caroline and Alice Randall

What do you think about influencers?  I think they have a lot more responsibility that many realize. 

Do you think you are an influencer? I think every educator is, in some way. But in terms of social media…maybe lately. That’s a little scary. 

Do you think exist an objective aesthetic value or you think aesthetic value is just subjective? I think there’s actual science to this. The golden ratio, and something about symmetry? Of course there are things that are objectively pleasurable to the eye, and ear, and tongue and skin. Humans like sweet things, and soft things, and certain chord progressions, and a certain amount of light. but then everything else is subjective. most of the fun stuff. the weird textures, flavors, broken sounds and unexpected shapes. those are a matter of taste. 

What is the night you spent the most money to have fun?  Oh God. I don’t know if I even want to think about that. On purpose–my thirtieth birthday party. An open bar and food and dancing at third man records in nashville. THey’re my book publishers so it felt like I was hosting in a home away from home. 

What do you do for fun? Entertain. I love to cook, I keep a well stocked bar, I love to hear music and experience other people’s art. 

What people don’t know about your job? I actually love it when I’m not in charge. 

Where have you been on vacation when you were young? I grew up going to France most summers, and I still love to visit, though I go mainly in the winter now. 

Where are you going on vacation now? If COVID allows, I hope to go somewhere warm in Europe this summer. 

What’s the topic you are most expert in? Shakespeare. And Martinis. And the blues. 

Have you ever been in love? Yes.

Have you ever had a homosexual experience? I haven’t. 

Where do you live? Nashville, Tennessee

Where are you from?  Nashville, Tennessee 

The best sentence you wrote? The first line from this article I wrote last summer, probably. It was, “I have rape colored skin” or maybe a line from my book “Simple and easy ain’t the same thing”.

One by someone else you that you wanted to write?She had curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of them in that wool jersey.” That’s Hemingway. Jake describing Brett Ashley at the bar. Or maybe Lucille Clifton: “Won’t you celebrate with me that every day something has tried to kill me and has failed.”

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If a regular person made a stunning work of art would you consider him an artist or just someone who made a nice/beautiful thing? I think that might depend on what that person did next. 

When, in your opinion, can you define a person as an artist? I’m not sure. I think it’s got something to do with audience. When they become someone who other people turn to because their work adds to other people’s lives. 

Do you think that a person that doesn’t stand out in the art market is just because he is not worthy? It might be that. It’s also obviously sometimes a matter of people being either before their time or in the wrong environment to be receved. But i do think that artists do have some responsibility to figure out how to connect with their audience. 

Do you think that the relationship between art and drugs is just a cliché? Yes and no. I think when you’re trying to make good art it can cause you to live in difficult parts of your brain, and then yes, it makes sense to find ways to escape. Whether or not it’s a cliche, it’s certainly a pattern. Many (if not most) of my favorite artists have a complicated relationship with substance abuse, primarily alcohol. 

Do you think that only the art market define what can be considered art and what cannot?  I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that question. 

What do you think about Banksy’s experiment to sell his works on the streets for cheap? Do you think that the value of a work, in the eye of an observer, is given from the context in which it was seen? Again, because my art is with words, I have a very different sense of what constitutes value or ownership. So all i can say is that no, I don’t think the value of a work depends on context alone. But of course context can be informative and important. 

Which languages do you speak? Mainly English. I can get around in France, if people are nice enough to speak slowly with me. 

Which are your favorite places in your city? My house. And all of North Nashville, because of the history. 

Do you have any political orientation? Yes. I’m a liberal but pragmatic Democrat. 

Favorite movies? My parents divorced when I was little, and my dad and I would almost always watch movies together when I saw him, so I have his taste, which has intensified since he passed away. So, this might come as a suprise, but here goes: Gladiator, Braveheart, The Godfather, Gangs of New York, and in honor of my five-year-old self, a terrible but wonderful film called Surf Ninjas

Favorite songs? In terms of my single favorite, you can ask anyone who knows me at all well, and they’ll have the answer. Come on Eileen by Dexies Midnight Runners. Number one, without question. After that, it changes a bit, but here’s a working list: Tell It Like It Is by Aaron Neville, Black Haired Boy by Guy Clark, Gee Whiz by Carla Thomas, I Must Have That Man by Billie Holiday, and then for a couple of wildcards, All the Above by Maino, and One Crowded Hour by Augie March, and the Lomax recording of the Parchman Prison inmates singing Rosie. Oh, and obviously Proud Mary by Tina Turner. And Purple Rain. The list would not be complete without Prince. 

Favorite bands? The Band. The Staples Singers. The Rolling Stones.  

Favorite authors? The authors of the books above, and then I’d add Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Nabokov, James Joyce, Barry Hannah and my friends Christa Parravani and Kiese Laymon to that list. And Ta-Nehesi Coates, especially his essays. And most importantly, on a human level and a creative one, my mother Alice Randall. Especially Alice Randall. 

Alice and Caroline Randall

What’s your favorite historical character? Queen Elizabeth the First. Or maybe Cleopatra. 

Can you define yourself with an adjective? Multitudinous

Favorite TV series? Peaky Blinders, without question. 

If you were an animal which one would you like to be? Either something glamorous, like a panther, or something very long lived, like a sea turtle. 

How much do you earn now? Ha. 

Have you ever been offered money for sex? No! 

Have you ever had sex with more than one person? I have not. 

Have you ever cheated on your fiancée? No.

Have you ever cheated on a friend? No.

Do you have some dreams that you are trying to realize? If so which ones? I’m trying to see if I can keep  making enough of a living out of my creative  that I can always travel when I’d like to. 

What time do you usually go to sleep? Late. 

What time do you usually wake up? Too early. 

What’s your favorite city in the world? London. 

Favorite books? Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh has been my favorite book for a long time. As I’ve become a grown woman, The Color Purple and Their Eyes Were Watching God have become equally important. And I will always love The Sun Also Rises. And then of course all of the Harry Potters. And The Riverside Shakespeare. 

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Do you believe in some religions? I certainly believe in something beyond what we can see. I have my own faith, which is personal. I think religion is a way of getting close to the divine, and we’re probably all praying to the same thing, just in different faith languages, so to speak. 

Do you have many friends? Yes, I’m very lucky in my friendships. 

What would you do first if you won the lottery? Renovate my house in Nashville, and buy a place in the UK. 

Your favorite dish? I’m simple in this regard, my favorite dish to eat and to cook is roast chicken.

Last book you read? Corregidora by Gayl Jones. It’s an amazing book; I can’t believe it took me this long to read it.  

The most precious material thing you own? A piece of art from my father’s side of the family. Sorry to be mysterious but that’s all you get. 

What do you usually drink at the bar? Depends on the time of year. In the fall and winter, scotch with water. In the winter and spring, dirty vodka martinis. spring and summer, it’s a gin martini with a twist. And when i’m out dancing, tequila and soda with a lime.  

What do you usually have for breakfast? Toast with butter or a poached egg. 

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Best party you’ve been to? Probably one I threw at my house in Mississippi when I lived with my wonderful friend Everett. We both loved to entertain, and have the same taste in drinks and in men. It made for excellent gatherings.  

Can you tell us something about you that nobody knows or very few people know? I’m in front of people quite a lot, but I’m actually very shy. 

The way you dress more often? I tend to wear all black whenever possible. 

What’s the item of clothing you spent the most money on? An Yves Saint Laurent Handbag, before it became St. Laurent. 

Your ideal holiday? There are so many ways to answer that question. The first thing that comes to mind is that I’ve always loved the idea of taking the Orient Express from Istanbul to Paris. 

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What you cannot stand on people? Ignorance and belligerance. 

What’s the thing that make lose your patience the most? Incompetence. 

And what does never gets you tired of? Spending time with people who understand me. 

Do you know someone being a real racist? Yes. 

Do you think breeds can be applied on human beings like for all other animals?  Good Lord. No. 

Do you think that if people couldn’t post on Instagram about it, they would take part as well to social movements? Probably not. But I know there are probably also other people who would participate more if they didn’t think there was the risk of being associated with the movement, on both sides. That’s a good question. Complicated. 

What’s the most boring thing for you? Spending time with complacent or unambitious people.

What’s the best and worst choice you took in your life? Moving to Mississippi after university. 

Do you believe in everlasting love? Yes. I don’t think it’s inevitable, but I believe its possible.

Why is it so hard to have a lasting love today in your opinion? Do you think social networks are involved in it? Maybe. I think also we’re less accustomed to having to keep on with hard things. Relationships are hard work and we’ve got so many choices — that idea of fear of missing out, it permeates everything. 

Your best and worst memories of your youth? There are too many to chose from. My worst, easily the day I found out my father died. I was seventeen then. I’m thirty three now and my heart’s still broken. 

How did you like to spend your time? Entertaining, with people I enjoy. 

«Limonov si è chiesto se ci fossero al mondo molti altri uomini come lui, la cui esperienza comprendeva universi così differenti come quello del detenuto comune in un campo di lavori forzati sul Volga e quello dello scrittore alla moda che si muove in ambienti firmati Philippe Starck. No, ha concluso, probabilmente no, e ne ha tratto motivo di un orgoglio che comprendo»
Emmanuel Carrère

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What do you think about marriage? I admire decisiveness. And I think that’s a big part of marriage, you make a choice about a person. I like the idea of that very much.

And monogamy? I think that’s a choice too. I think people need to be on the same page about expectations. Personally, I have only been in monogamous relationships and prefer them, but I’ve seen other arrangements work when both partners agree. 

What do you like the most about Italy? The layers of history. And the obvious beauty of the public spaces. And the food. 

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